Most games tend to lose appeal with time. Whether the graphics become dated, the sound becomes boring, the story cliché or the gameplay dull, most games quickly feel the curse of growing old. Even games that were considered the greatest in their day fade to little more than mediocrity in current times. It’s really quite sad if you think about it. The Legend of Zelda, however, is certainly not succumbing to old age. In fact, it’s nearly just as much fun now as it was when it was first released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. There’s just something about the addictive gameplay, the timeless music and the revolutionary mechanics that makes it fun even after more than two decades. With it now easily available for purchase on the Wii Virtual Console or even on the Game Boy Advance, it gives the newer generation a chance to play this timeless classic.
The Legend of Zelda starts you out unlike any game in recent memory. After starting a new file you are literally thrust into the game world and left to your own devices. You’re not even given a story or a goal. If you want to find out what you’re actually supposed to do you’ll need to refer to the instruction manual! I know! Crazy, right!? Actually, let’s get this out of the way now. The Legend of Zelda has a boring story. It’s the same story you find in most games of the series, but with even less depth. Princess Zelda has been captured by Ganon and it’s up to you to save her by collecting pieces of the legendary Triforce. It’s extremely mediocre as far as modern gaming is concerned, but it gives you enough of a goal to get out into the world and see what it has to offer.
In terms of gameplay, the forefather plays like most of its descendants. You have a huge overworld to explore filled with enemies, dungeons, caves and plenty of secrets. Each time you clear a dungeon you’ll end up with a new piece of equipment that allows you to reach places you couldn’t before. There are some classic items such as the bow and bombs and some unusual ones such as the bridge. It’s still a great formula and there’s nothing like the excitement of going back to a place you couldn’t access before with the right tools to finally reach it. Each dungeon follows a similar design, but they can be quite varied in what they demand of you. In some dungeons the focus is on defeating enemies whilst others force you to make clever use of new equipment. There’s just enough variety that you’ll never feel one dungeon is the same as another. Having said that, don’t expect the same kind of design quality found in more recent Zelda titles. These dungeons are much the same graphically and often the challenge is about finding your way when you don’t have a map.
Unlike more recent Zelda games, however, this one is hard. Really hard at times, and it can be very unforgiving. Early on when you have nothing more than your sword, three hearts and any previous Zelda experience to rely upon, some of the dungeons can be extremely punishing. To start, you have to find each dungeon on the massive overworld without any directions or clues. After finally locating it, and probably having lost most of your health to the enemies along the way, you’ll then need to defeat the enemies inside, clear the puzzles and kill the boss to complete it. A few of the dungeons are especially challenging. If you do happen to die you’re transported back to the screen where the game begins and forced to walk all the way back. This can be very off-putting for fans that are used to the generally easier, gentler nature of later games in the series. On the bright side, you’ll never feel like you had a cheap death. You will always understand why you died and be able to put that knowledge to good use on your next attempt.
Luckily, searching and dying isn’t all doom and gloom. The overworld is filled with many interesting places and items to find for those who wish to look. Heart containers that increase your health are hidden carefully away along with the highly useful fairy fountains where you can restore your health. Once you do start acquiring more equipment and health the game becomes more enjoyable. If you’re someone who really enjoys the exploration side of games then you’ll feel right at home here. Others may find locating everything more frustrating than fun; the locations of some items are extremely devious. How you’d ever manage to find some without a walkthrough is beyond me.
For fans of the series, the first thing that will draw your attention when you switch the game on is the music. The selection throughout the game is rather small as the overworld only has one piece of music and the dungeons all use similar tracks. But they’re all true Zelda classics. They’re hardly the orchestral masterpieces of Ocarina of Time, but you’ll find yourself whistling along merrily anyway. Some nostalgic sound effects are included too; everything from the explosion of a bomb to the delightful victory sound after solving a puzzle or unlocking a door. If this is your first Zelda game, however, there’s probably nothing about the sound that will really grab your attention. For everyone except fans the sound will seem quite aged.
Likewise the graphics are all about their historic value. Fans of the series will love to see the original Octoroks and Moblins in all their 8-bit glory. Everyone else will likely just see these enemies as dated visuals lacking any real interest or variety. Common enemies look decent, but aren’t anything special. Bosses sport some clever designs and interesting visuals to make up for it though. The overworld is brightly coloured, and while you won’t be bored by the scenery, it doesn’t really grab your attention either. A lot of the same tiles are used over and over again, and within certain areas one screen can look much the same as another. Luckily the excellent design of the overworld saves the game from these graphical flaws.
If veterans of the original are concerned about any changes made to the Game Boy Advance or Wii Virtual Console versions then fret not! Aside from resolution modifications to fit the small handheld or larger television screens the game is exactly the same as it was. The controls feel just as comfortable as they did all those years ago too. Nintendo has obviously gone to some effort to ensure the game plays the same as it always has.
Overall, you can’t really go past The Legend of Zelda. If you’re a fan of the series then you really need to pick up this title now. There’s no reason not for you to play it, especially for such a cheap price on the Wii Virtual Console. Even after all these years it still manages to retain the classic Zelda ‘feel’. Likewise if you’re a fan of old-school games you’ll enjoy the challenge and design of one of the greatest early console games. If you don’t fit into either of those categories then take a chance and give it a go if anything here grabbed your attention. Even if you don’t think it’s the greatest game ever you’ll get the chance to appreciate one of the first true milestones in video gaming history.